Can built form influence social problems?
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CAN BUILT FORM INFLUENCE SOCIAL PROBLEMS? The concept of social problems is linked to a wide spectrum of contrasting definitions. Jerome G Monis defines it as "these social conditions identified by scientific enquiry and values as detrimental to human well-being". On the other hand Malcom Spector and Jon I Kitsuse defined them as "the activities of individuals or groups making assertion of grievance and claims with respect to some putative conditions". (http://syg2010-01.fa04.fsu.edu/Week_1.htm) Taking into consideration the different approaches to this debate the point that the main reason for people's behaviour is physical form can be argued. Urban form can be seen as one of the reason for social behaviour but to deny the influence of social, economical and political factors is to simplify the complexity of society and the different relationships within it. In any case both arguments will always be episodes in the long saga of traditional controversy. Social problems have been divided into 3 groups by Kenneth C Land (www.soc.duke.edu): Deviant behaviour, including drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, crime and violence. Social inequality and conflict including aging, the ederly, racial and ethnics relations, the sexes and gender inequality, poverty and economic inequality and homelessness. Finally, human groups and social change which include the changes in the economy and workplace. The social problems that can be correlated directly to urban form are seen as the one under the social inequality category and antisocial behaviour.
People who are not satisfied with society, who have not got the same access to commodities than the major part of the population and that experience from the indifference of institutions, which are characterised by low skill occupations, family disorganisation, poverty, illiteracy and racism suffers are grouped in this kind of residential development which are cheap to build and can accommodate a large number of people in minimal space. These people are the product of "exacerbation of a logic of economic and racist exclusion" (Savage, Warden & Ward, 2003, pg76). Again we can argue here whether the physical environment is the reason for these problems and again a new example contradicts the simplicity of the architectural determinism discourse. Spain, as almost all European cities is flat based. Almost 80% of the population in Spain live in flats. People in Spain have been brought up living in high density block of flats. The perception of people about living in this kind of housing is completely different to the British one. Being the common norm between the population it does not lead to any of the social problems described above. They are not associated to vandalism and poor quality accommodation. They are the standard residential housing where people live. The areas where vulnerable groups live are characterised by poor links of transport, no easy access to schools, located on the outskirts of the city and who residents are immigrants or part of a minor ethnic group.
This perception will always be shaped according to the culture and socialization the individual has experienced. What in some countries is seen as undesiderable form of housing in others is the common norm. In Britain "compact city" has been proved to be the best option for future urban development if sustainable reasons are taking into account. The promotion of places that make efficient use of available space and environmental resources will lead to the adoption of high-density development. This residential housing has been seen through history as a reason for the emergence of social problems and people associate this type of built environment to vandalism, crime and social inequality. The introduction of this new model into planning practice will need to be seen together with changes in the population mentality and will meet several difficulties when confronting well rooted ways of thinking. People will have to be educated to accept the change. It will not create additional social problems if it incorporates features that improve people's quality of life like high standard local services and an easy reach of a range of facilities. This new concept of built form will generate debates and modification in people's constructed reality before being able to be generally accepted, a shift in people's attitudes towards the new form of housing. It needs to be an attractive option and it will involve action and investment from government and agencies in order to disassociate false presumptions about this kind of built form.
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